Friday, May 28, 2004


Do you want to know a secret?
I know one; I was at the Hospital for Sick Children last night, helping to guide parents to the private meeting hospital officials and police had organized to share the latest information on the child pornography charges laid against 33 year old nurse Scott Faichnie.
(The hospital was put into a virtual lockdown mode for the duration of the information meeting – security was called in and volunteers were asked to accompany those identified as parents to both ensure that they found their way to the auditorium, and that no one else – press, outsiders, curiosity seekers – would be admitted to what was anticipated would be a highly charged and emotional ordeal.)
Faichnie, a male nurse employed since September of 2002 on the in-patient oncology ward at the hospital was charged late last week with two counts of possession and one count each of accessing child pornography and making child pornography available. He was, to the surprise of precisely no one, also fired from the hospital the same day.
As you might imagine, Faichnie’s arrest and the charges made have been the topic of some considerable discussion at the hospital since the news positively rocketed around the community last Friday.
Within moments of his arrest, emails were directed to all staff and volunteers at the hospital, offering a phone number to call for further information, and assurances that so far as was known, though ordinary photographs of some of the children were found in Faichnie’s possession, none of the patients on 8A had been the subject of any sexual abuse.
But of course everyone has just been sick about the whole thing.
Medical and administrative staff, children and parents – volunteers and friends of the hospital have been laid low with the news that one of the ‘family’ could have betrayed his position of trust so thoroughly.
When I heard about the secret last night, I was jolted and sickened – but on reflection it’s not really so surprising.
There’s talk of course – but not as you might expect, gossip and curiosity about the potential salacious details of the pornographic images found by accident (nobody knows quite how) by another nurse on 8A. What is known is that Faichnie’s colleague reported the findings immediately, setting off the lightning fast investigation that quickly uncovered the nurse’s secret sexual preoccupations, leading to the subsequent arrest and charges.
The things people do want to talk about are the parents and the children – how they feel, how much more vulnerable this horrible discovery renders them… what might be done to comfort them in their fear and confusion.
We talk about other male nurses – how the stereotypes they already deal with now have an extra heaping helping of negativity piled on top.
The male volunteers are shaken – they’re few, but dedicated… and so necessary. With so many women usually administering to the needs of the patients, a male presence can be such a plus – whether as buddy for the older boys, a welcome change of pace for all the children, or just as a hint of normalcy in an environment that tries but often cannot come as close to the warm family atmosphere its inhabitants would like.
But the men are all so self-conscious now; what might have been a natural gesture in the past – picking up a baby for a cuddle, or moving in close for a friendly game of Battleships – seems a choice now fraught with suspicious overtones.
To be fair, most parents are completely aware that the revelations
about Faichnie’s secret life were virtually impossible to have foreseen – any potential staff member (or volunteer for that matter) is subjected to a series of in-depth interviews and background checks that include a through vetting by the RCMP. Faichnie’s unblemished criminal record (up until now) provided no information whatsoever that might have led to suspicions of pedophilia. In fact, just the opposite: the oncology nurse had a resume bursting to overflowing with heretofore unquestioned interaction with children – there was his involvement with Air Cadets and Scouts, not to mention previous employment with a child daycare.
So the parents (for the most part) are not torturing themselves, seeking hostile, enraged revenge against the hospital that would permit, or simply carelessly miss such a thing. Many feel a bewildered connection to hospital staff who are ashamed and mortified that such a thing could happen at Sick Kids. Sick Kids!
No – the thing that keeps them awake at night… that causes some of the most stoic to tear up and turn away… the sickening detail that haunts them and will likely occur to them again and again over the months and even years ahead, is the secret I learned last night ferrying those parents between elevators and auditorium.
When these terrified parents of cancer stricken children were at their most vulnerable, as fragile and frightened as human beings can probably get, as in need of support and trusted friends as any of us probably wouldn’t care to imagine, they were grateful for what they perceived to be Scott Faichnie’s caring, dedicated presence.
The secret is - they loved him.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Quelle Dump...

(Rant alert...)
Move over Fashion Police – the Interior Design Cops may be gaining on you.
In news that stunned a nation already reeling from decades of listless tone on tone colour schemes and cold modernistic-style coffee tables, a German citizen was recently charged for threatening his neighbours with bodily harm unless they ceased and desisted in redesigning their digs forthwith.
According to police reports, the 45 year old man from Erkrath near Dusseldorf, pointed a gun at the teenagers living next door and told them – mach shnell! - to stop decorating, or (apparently) else.
The victims claim the man told them it was the noise that was bothering him, but I wonder… maybe the poor man finally succumbed to that famous last straw – in this case, an overwhelming surfeit of cable TV decorating programs.
I hear you Mein Herr!
Second to the top on my list of absolutely-the-bottom television show concepts is the recent spate of home makeover shows.
For the last few years, popping up all over the dial (not that televisions have dials anymore, but like the phone, we have yet to discover a new descriptor – plus, I like retro, so it’s all good for me) like an advanced infestation of toadstools, is example after hideous example of style gone wild. And now that Martha’s gone (or is she…?) who’s going to separate the Good Things from the beyond appalling, edging into horror show-enforced transformations?
Whether the format is agreed upon (Trading Spaces) begged for (Extreme Home Makeover) secret guerilla-style (While You Were Out) or force-fed to sloppy heterosexuals (Queer Eye for the Straight Guy) like the face and body plastic surgery programs, the pay-off is all in the shocking reveal.
And sometimes it really is shocking and revealing.
Watching middle-aged ‘just plain folks’ transmogrify their neighbour’s basement or sitting room into a scene from the Arabian Nights, or choose a squid inspired ‘Under the Sea’ theme for their formerly lackluster (and formerly perfectly normal) bedroom, you start to wonder if the next DIY project will be a barb wire-topped chain link fence, or possibly a convenient weapons storage space complete with grenade launcher.
Seeing the poor saps uncover their eyes at the final moment and attempt to get their oohs and ahhs in place for the ever-present cameras, is an object lesson in the reading of mixed signals and shocked-into-rigidity body language.
(Tell me – what do you think a shrill scream followed by hair tearing, helpless sobs and cries of ‘Why? Why!’ means?)
But what were they thinking anyway?
How great a transformation could one expect with a budget of a thousand bucks, forcing the show-sanctioned decorators to rely on craft store stencils, poster paint, discontinued fabric swatches and orange crates to metamorphose a normal suburban rumpus room into a mini-Versailles.
But that’s the downscale programs; to really see what Zeller’s will be pushing next year with their in-house branded home accessories, get a load of the pricier shows – the ones that like to start with pity as a motivator (dead mothers, handicapped fathers – tragedy of any kind, really) where decorators tend to swarm in like locusts, destroying everything in sight (and taking some pretty mean on-camera digs at the state of their victim’s living spaces “Just look at the grime in this grouting! And the food they eat - it's non organic!”) before inflicting ‘Beach House in the Hamptons’ (plenty of pastel paint-chipped china cabinets and crackle-fnished iron bedsteads tipped onto unfinished hardwood floors) or streamlined sophisticated modernity (60’s hi-fi cabinetry shoved protesting upwards to a whole new level) into homes that were previously inhabited by people really only looking for a Barkalounger with a cup-holder, or possibly a larger fridge to display the kid’s art projects.
You’ve gotta give Martha Stewart credit; all her impossibly glamorous projects were done in her own home on her own time, and I expect that was half the pleasure: believing Martha was willing to wait for the milk paint to drip dry on her painstakingly reconditioned priceless Shaker porch furniture, or scouring the local hedgerows for just the right shaped twig to braid into a Thanksgiving centrepiece was easy… imagining the slobs who live next door magically transforming into the sort of folks who would either want to live that way in the first place, or be willing to maintain that level of chicken-breeding, tag sale-haunting, flower arranging perfection is ever so slightly harder.
Also, there’s a truism that seems to escape both the budget-priced and the upscale interior designers – when you update, refinish, or even refurnish an already attractive well-built and well-maintained space, you’re bound to get worthwhile results; slinging a can of Ralph Lauren ‘Hampstead Heliotrope’ on plasterboard walls, or thumb-tacking pleather fabric around the skeleton of an ancient Lazyboy with hopes of eliciting comparisons to antique, leather lined men’s club libraries, is far more likely to elicit comparisons to sow’s ears and silk purses.
And how long before all that glue-gunned swagging masquerading as elaborate draperies crumples into the heap of bargain basement material it actually is?
It’s really just a matter of time.
And hopefully too just a matter of time before we lose our endless appetite for makeovers – whether of humans or of houses.
When you look at them closely, the most consistent feature is the degree of self-shame required of the participants - whether sitting by quietly (what else could you do with a mouthful of sharp instruments and a dental dam?) as the dentist favours the home audience with a scathing review of your disgusting dental history... or the plastic surgeon squeezes and weighs your abdominal fat like a baker manipulating raw dough... or the interior decorator sweeps through your cabinets and cupboards with an expression of such contempt-riddled loathing you half expect to see a few dead bodies or at least some S & M sex apparatus lurking in their disparaged depths to tumble out - your role in all of this is to stand shamefacedly by, taking their humiliating criticisms as your due.
So really, the free makeover isn’t absolutely free – unless you consider your self-esteem completely worthless in the first place.

Come back Martha! All is forgiven!

Sunday, May 23, 2004

I Blame My Mother...

Woke up – got out of bed, dragged some toast across my head…
At least that’s the way it must have looked when my neighbour Patrick came by this morning.
So why, oh WHY did I go to the door? I have a peephole (for peeping) but I also have ancient hardwood floors that announce every movement I make as effectively as sophisticated motion detectors.
Creak, creak, creak – I come to the door… It would be pointless to bother to look through the peephole now, as unless the bod on the other side is obviously dripping blood, brandishing a weapon (or copies of the Watchtower) it would be nothing short of rude to hesitate for that telling moment.
But to tell you the truth, I almost wish I had; Patrick – though actually my favourite neighbour in the building – is something of a neat freak, being the possessor of an apartment so clean and tidy a speck of dirt has never so much as dared show its revolting self within the four spotless walls, let alone settle in for a visit. (In suite #428, dust is allowed to accumulate until the bunnies actually start hopping.)
He’s a darling, but not the sort of guy I want to come across before I’m washed, pressed, dressed and disinfected. And I'm certainly not going to invite him in without doing a quick whip-round to pick up a few things and shove a few things under still a few other things...
Is it my fault that I have so much stuff (I operate on the ‘more is more’ theory; it’s indisputable – count if you don’t believe me) that to dust each nick and nack, every delightful objet d’art, the graying fuzzy tops of the thousands of books my shelves are tricked out with would be a full time (with overtime) job? My fault my windows all face one of Toronto’s busiest thoroughfares, six lanes of traffic, belching exhaust from morning to night like they’d never heard of ruinous gas prices? My fault that I was raised by a mother who let me be this way?
(Sometimes doing a person’s laundry, picking up after them, letting them get away with not doing the dishes or shoveling the walk, and driving them to school each day – dropping the person off a block before so no one would see the person with her MOTHER, can be neglect!)
I blame her.
Please understand – I’m not talking about some sort of freakish nasty behaviour that nearly always ends up in the press with the individual discovered decaying away under decades of undiscarded newspaper, their horrible dirt-caked lair a virtual museum of messy horrors; we’re talking about someone who hates to dust… someone who hangs jackets on any door handle within reach… and someone who right now is tippy-typing away at a desk that is covered one quarter by computer and keyboard and three-quarters by paper, pencils, notepads, address books, scotch tape, calling cards, dictionaries, day-timer, cd’s, calculator, clippings, recipes, chewing gum, two ancient wrist watches, three and a half pairs of earrings, a sculpture of mother and child (rendered by my neglectful mother) a little china box with a transfer print of the Dogwood containing various paper clips, safety pins and thumb tacks, a cup of cooling coffee, and a framed page from a circa 1951 Dick and Jane primer showing Jane on her tricycle.
And what’s wrong with that? I need all these things; if not now, well, you never know…
The rest of the place is clean, the dishes are done, the laundry is hanging neatly on hangers (you’ve got move at the speed of light to catch the dryer in time to pull your iron-ables out before they settle in for a good wrinkling) and the dog and I are the only two objects here that look like unmade beds... besides the unmade bed of course.
Hey - it’s Sunday – lighten up!
But if I were dating now – talk about a messy proposition! - I would no doubt be dating the same kind of guy I always attract: the tidier-than-thou obsessive compulsive.
Who knows… perhaps it’s God’s little joke (though I’m sure He has better things to do than send inappropriate men my way) His own funny way of creating balance in the universe – but in the past few years I’ve dated seemingly nothing but men who look as though they’d be more comfortable handling me wearing rubber gloves.
One man just pitched in. I’d wander into the living room to find him going through the roll top desk (never used as a desk – more as an ingenious piece of furniture, designed by a kindred spirit with the purpose of pulling down a wooden curtain on weeks worth of junk mail and catalogues) sorting through my drawers (steady on) and making piles for keeping, tossing and figuring out later. We had a serious argument about a nice clean piece of cardboard I felt would come in handy some day – a nice clean piece of cardboard! – and he thought should go straight in the bin.
I still have that nice clean piece of cardboard (you never know) him - not so much...
The next neat freak was the perhaps the most over-the-top ever. I could never understand how he could bear me – he was horrified at the thought of my little dog lying on the bed and asked me seriously if I thought I might need some therapy to come to grips with this weirdness. (Can you imagine if instead of a Yorkshire Terrier, she’d been a St Bernard? Oh the laughs – my aching sides…)
He got noticeably edgy if his coffee table magazines became unaligned – and anyone who charges I deliberately moved them around a little bit just to see the fireworks, is either repeating the most vicious slander, or has access to secret videotapes.
But the coupe de grace, the final diverging of the minds came as I was sunning myself (no doubt ‘sprawling’ in his jaundiced eyes) on the spotless dock at his Muskoka cottage (if you can call a three story house with a state of the art kitchen, satellite TV and three perfectly colour-coordinated guest rooms a ‘cottage’) when feeling a shadow fall across my face, I opened my eyes to discover him standing above me – a look of incredulous horror playing across his features.
“Is that the way you were taught to fold towels?” (Once lengthways, then flipped over the towel rail.)
It was - or perhaps I picked it up in the streets.(A lesson made necessary by my mother selfishly having folded all my towels until then.)
I’m not sure, but I could swear there were tears in his eyes.
The most recent suitor was also the pitch-in type, though his obsession was my kitchen cupboards.
(Him:“Why do you have three shakers of The Perfect Spice with perhaps seven grains of The Perfect Spice in each?!” Me: “You never know…”)
Our tryst ended when he locked himself in the bathroom to enjoy a good root through my medicine cabinet.
Me: What are you doing in there?"
Him: “You have four bottles of painkillers from the mid-nineties! Are you trying to kill yourself?”
Me (through gritted teeth): “Well, you never know…”)

Friday, May 21, 2004

Fundamentally Dangerous

A minister is preaching to his flock of a Sunday.
"The road to Hell," he exhorts, "is paved with champagne, sports cars and loose women!" Suddenly, from a distant back pew, a plaintive voice is raised: "Oh Death, where is thy sting?"
Where indeed.
If the President of the United States is right, we’ll soon all be leaping about like the victims of a plague of Killer bees - and I don’t mean as a result of the kind of incompetence and lack of leadership he’s been accused of by House of Representatives Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.
(Who has clearly dropped the gloves as well as any semblance of reserve; there’ll be no more Ms Nice Gal-ing from her anymore - as according to Pelosi, there’s no point in pretending the American Emperor is anything but bare-ass naked.)
Now it’s The Village Voice reporting on that which has been being whispered about in the corridors of power for some time – the President is a believer in the The Rapture. The End of Days.
The end - in fact - of everything.
We all knew Bush was born again; we’ve all been aware for some time that he’s convinced he’s not only got a direct pipeline to The Almighty, but also that The Almighty should consider himself fortunate in the reverse being accurate as well.
(We can only hope the leader of the free world realizes he is but a fallible human who in acting with God-given free will hasn’t got it exactly completely positively right in every circumstance with the war in Iraq; it would have to rate as the worst case of scape-goating ever if he tried to pin this screwed up conflagration on the tail of the Holy Spirit.)
But now with evidence coming from all directions - heard everywhere from the ‘Bush and God’ cover of the March 6, 2004 Newsweek, to The Daily Show, and most recently from the above-mentioned Village Voice article by Rick Perlstein – it seems undeniable that a goodly part of Middle East policy is being decided with the input and influence of fundamentalist Christians; according to Perlstein, the National Security Council's top Middle East aide consults with ‘apocalyptic Christians’ on a weekly basis.
Their goal? To ensure American policy continues to oppose a Palestinian State.
Love of Israel? Not exactly: As Perlstein writes – “They fear an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza might enable just that, and they object on the grounds that all of Old Testament Israel belongs to the Jews. Until Israel is intact and Solomon's temple rebuilt, they believe, Christ won't come back to earth.”
Three weeks after officials met with the Apostolic Congress (the ‘Christian Voice in the Nation's Capital’ they call themselves) where they voiced their concerns, Perlstein reports President George W. Bush “…reversed long-standing U.S. policy, endorsing Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank in exchange for Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip.”
I'm not questioning the decision per se - but the motivation behind it and the individuals who influenced it give me just about the biggest case of the willies I've ever experienced. It's creepy.
It wasn’t long ago that the biggest worry concerning Bush’s Muscular Christianity was the influence he clearly wished to bring to bear upon the subject of teaching creationism in schools. Some politicians (Al Gore included) not wishing to offend their more religious constituents, agreed that creationism could be taught – in religious classes. Not so Bush. He felt it should be placed up alongside evolution as one of a pair of reasonable explanations of the beginning of the world.
Since then the President and his henchpersons have been making inroads on abortion, and are currently doing everything in their power to force an end to legal gay marriages. A new legislated morality appears to be in the works - a morality based on the beliefs of a singular group of fundamentalists who couldn't be happier to have one of their own in the top spot.
I’d feel a lot more comfortable about this if – wait… there’s nothing in the world that could make me comfortable with any of this!
Because beyond the creepiness of the President of the United States discarding scientific thought in favour of bible stories (which many thoughtful, educated theological experts now agree are probably best understood as metaphor) in doing so he not only disregards every other religion and school of religious thought (not to mention those who question the existence of any God) but makes life and death decisions with the assistance of a shadowy group of advisors; unelected, un-appointed and unknown to the American people.
Now that stings.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

60 Minutes Man

A writerly friend of mine (or would it be more accurate to say ‘writery’?) told me yesterday how much he detests most film and television reviewing. Its crap he thinks: – mostly pointless prattle, sometimes puffery – but almost entirely pulp or pap. He was pretty adamant, but I think that might be situational; coming off a couple of weeks of so much angst-ridden ‘what’ll we do now that Friends is gone!’ media slobbering, he’s doubtless a little biased.
That’s why I want to make it quite clear to him (to, I don’t know… let’s call him ‘Greyherring’) that I’m not about to review Tuesday night’s farewell broadcast to 60 Minutes creator Don Hewitt. Not a bit of it. My purpose today in discussing Don (in the context of the program) is to admit to a problem.
It’s honesty we’re told - facing up to our foibles - that provides the first steps on the road to recovery. If that’s so, hand me my walker, my bifocals and plenty of sunscreen - my condition has a name: Gerentophilia. A particular attraction to the elderly.
Somewhere in the world is a cave wall covered in ancient symbols and complex hieroglyphics, images of prehistoric animals gamboling in a prehistoric landscape, but the central scrawl, crudely rendered yet recognizable - a pictograph of an ancient, fossilized desiccated Don Hewitt. There has to be; something has to explain the Dorian Grey-like quality of this vital, ageless hunk. There are no two ways about it – this geriatric is a stone (age) fox.
If you happened to catch the retrospective-cum-bum’s rush ostensibly celebrating the career of the creator and executive producer for more than 25 years of the innovative and original television news magazine show 60 Minutes, you can’t have been unaware of the fact that sitting around the coffin shaped (and what wit thought that up?) table in Studio 45 with him, was a selection of senior citizens quite obviously in the last stages of decay.
In what is clearly only a matter of time before succumbing to putrification was Mike Wallace – wrinkled and wattled, looking like one of those talking trees in The Wizard of Oz… if in fact one of those talking trees needed his dentures re-fitted; Morley Safer – a melted down, tallow-hued baggy Bloodhound who’s obviously seen many and much better days (you really could pack actual stuff in those under-eye bags… though who knows: perhaps he’s just feeling tired and emotional, still suffering the devastating loss of Friends…) and Ed Bradley – an ash-tinted wraith with a diamond earring – hair like the carpeting in the back of an old VW Bug, grizzled and grizzly.
(Two others were there to play “Do you remember when…” the youngsters: Steve Croft and Leslie Stahl… but Steve though only 58, already fits the ancient visual – with a face like 10 pounds of concrete in 20 pound sack… poured unevenly onto 20 miles or so of bad road; and Leslie, well Leslie has always looked like that. Pretty, thin and dry - probably a little musty, she’s just ‘the girl’; pay no attention.)
Crumpled and sagging Hobbit Andy Rooney, cute as a button – if buttons can also incorporate a crabby, cranky-pantsing unstable temperament – was not at the table, though he was in evidence in one of his usual segment style rant-ettes, sounding a little sad (in that ‘keep your enemies closer’ way) to see the great man go.
So the shock was in the midst of all this – the guy who was retiring; the man who driver’s license apparently accurately reports is 81… the fellow who looked like a million bucks (in cash) from the superb cut of his moss green bespoke Prince of Wales check jacket, to the subtly coordinating celery green silk tie encircling his apparently still un-wattled neck. From his tanned and handsome face, to his twinkling, sparkling (I feel a sigh coming on) bright eyes, the man isn't just a visionary - he's a vision! So why is he going?
And if he’s going, could he sort of indicate himself over in my direction?
If it weren’t for a few seconds of film clips of Don in the early days of television – and a few great stories, like when he told Dan Rather to nip on over to the Zapruder’s pad to steal the film of the Kennedy assassination (beat him up if necessary, knock him down – but get that film) or when Frank Sinatra threatened his life for enquiring about ol’ blue eyes’s mob connections, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking the show had very little to actually do with Don.
The show was really all about the other pensioners and their past triumphs: Morley and Gleason; Ed and Ali; Mike and the Ayatollah. (There were also clips from the classic hidden camera expose Steve Croft perpetrated on an almost unbelievably corny criminal – a Boss Hogg-shaped roller backer of odometers. It gave Croft the opportunity to say “The good news is we’re not the police – the bad news is we’re 60 Minutes!” That must have been fun.)
And the show was lots of fun in that classic 60 Minutes retrospective way, but not much of an obvious Hewitt-fest… though to be fair, had they shown the behind the camera, desk-bound Exec Producer in action, probably signing off on expenses, going over time sheets, or checking CBS’s insurance after almost fatally dropping lighting equipment on the head of the then First Lady in waiting, Hilary Clinton, instead of say, Jackie Gleason reprising his Minnesota Fats role for Morley Safer, the program might have lost that certain je ne sais quoi (something remotely interesting) that means ratings.
Though it was made clear that Hewitt was – is – the living embodiment of the history of television news. He was there with Murrow and Cronkite - covered Kennedy alive and dead – then presumably scratched his (then dark, now silvery-white) thick thatch of hair and dreamed up 60 Minutes.
(Rumour has it he filched the concept of the news magazine show from the Canadian producers of ‘This Hour Has Seven Days’, but I’m going to cut him a little slack here – not that he needs it: everything looks as tight as need be…!)
It did seem strange though, when you consider that Wallace, Safer, Rooney et al are staying and this ball of pent up, still-firing-on-all-cylinders energy is going. Why?
My theory? They’re all just jealous!
So the bad news is – he’s no longer 60 Minutes personified. The good news is that at least his absence from the day to day doings of the CBS News department will give him the time to pursue something a little less controversial; perhaps reply to his fan mail… in person…
Am I getting older? (Is it possible?) Could this explain my ga-ga fascination with a man old enough (if he were just a little precocious and promiscuous) to be my grandfather? Until recently I mostly dated men who only knew disco as recycled nostalgia – most of whom probably wouldn’t recognize a bubble shirt or identify the taste of ‘Incredible Edibles’ - but when you think about it, Don would likely be just as oblivious to these markers as well, having missed them the first time around due to a preoccupation with Big Band music, sock suspenders and bathtub gin.
I can’t tell you right now if this elder-worship is a one-off, or the shape of things to come; I can tell you that I’m beginning to love the smell of Ben-Gay in the morning…

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Not Different... Special

After listening to last week’s apolo-fest, where everyone who was anyone got a chance to say how sorry they were, claimed responsibility for everything, and drew a diagram like one of those shopping mall ‘You Are Here’ maps, with the arrow pointing to where the buck stopped – and consequently removing any and all actual accountability from the exercise – I began to wonder if maybe (just maybe) the American president got it wrong.
Maybe Americans aren’t all decent, honour-bound, true-blue saviours of human rights, as capable of the horrific acts alleged in the Abu Grhaib prison as they would be of taking photographs of them… Perhaps a very few Americans are somewhat… different… in their approach.
So instead of declaiming, hand on heart, that the actions of the few in torturing - excuse me – in abusing Iraqi prisoners was inconsistent with the morals and the values… the way of life, the ‘true nature and heart’ and ‘the way we do things in America’, perhaps the President should have emphasized the flip side of the argument; turned the beat around… changed a negative to a positive… made lemonade out of the bitter tears of wimpy, Liberal apologists.
Exchanged the image of the compassionate, moral, value-laden American everyman into that other icon of American lore – the ‘Rugged Individualist’.
After all, what’s the point of freedom if everyone’s going to end up being exactly the same? That’s commie talk!
It’s time to start appreciating that the great thing about being American, is a constitutional guarantee to be free to be whomsoever (within certain strict bounds of reason) they like – unlike, for instance, the poor pathetic citizens of other countries like Iraq and Russia and Cuba and China; do those sad sods even have constitutions by the people and for the people to protect the people? God, no – they even dress the same if the stock photos of millions of heathen Chinese bicycling in to work are to be believed… (and is it just me or do they all look somewhat the same too? And the brown people – come on… no one can tell them apart!)
Americans are good, wholesome, decent people not because they’re all the same, but because they’re allowed to be different.
It’s a fact - when you’re free to be you and me, you have no need to lash out against those weaker or less powerful than you; people who don’t deserve all the natural resources God mistakenly saw fit to bestow upon them.
But to be honest, freedom has a price; there are just a few things you can’t do if you’re fortunate enough to be American – and they’re really mostly insignificant things you wouldn’t want to do even if you could. In fact, they’re pretty awful things, come to think of it, things it would probably be pretty good to stamp out, so as not to trouble people bent on rugged individuality with having to be exposed to things which aren’t just individual and unique, or special and personal, but sick and just plain wrong.
There may not be any loopholes in the constitution that allow for eradicating these things (yet…) but any rugged individualist with an ounce of sense knows that once a man has won the Presidency of the United States fair and square, that man ought to be able to make a few changes - a few adjustments – after all, if he doesn’t know what’s right, who does?
So the following are a few (a very few, really) things you actually can’t do and be a good rugged individualistic American. (You really can’t.)
1. Love someone of your own sex.
Is that so hard? And it’s not even an absolute rule. Come on: you can love your same sex children and your same sex family members and even your same sex brothers in arms (fighting brings people together in a beautiful way) but no matter what the lunatics in Massachusetts and Canada are doing, you really shouldn’t marry them (or in some states, commit certain disgusting sexual acts with them) because it’s against God’s will – and everyone knows God is on the side of the good guys – and who’s the good guys? Us (I mean the U.S.) that’s who!
2. Control your own body.
This rule actually applies only to women, and for a short time anyway, it seems it will still be legally possible for them to control their bodies in such a way that they are allowed to be murdering bitches from hell who deserve what they get; because let’s face it - we can’t trust God to give ‘em what they deserve on Judgment Day. (No one’s saying he isn’t a great God and all that, but bless Him – he’s pretty big on this ‘forgiving’ thing – and we all know that certain filthy disgusting whores don’t deserve forgiveness.)
This isn’t so much a bypassing of the Almighty’s dibs on judging, as it is an insurance policy that by the time they get to him, they’ll be – by force if necessary – washed free of all sin and he won’t have to trouble himself with passing judgment on their disgusting characters. Let’s remember: We’re here to help.
3. Voice an Opinion Counter to the Government of the Day.
And to be perfectly candid, this is really just a common sense rule. I mean, everyone knows that when the Government of the Day declares war (or even liberation) on someone, they must be pretty mad and have a pretty good reason – or they wouldn’t be the Government of the Day! (Talk about obvious…) So everyone also knows that you have to pick sides; you’re either with us or against us – almost goes without saying doesn’t it? – and this applies to other countries too. Anyone who didn’t see the sense in attacking Iraq after the attack on the World Trade Centre by Afghani terrorist extremists, is just being like the little girl with the curl. (When she is good and agrees, she’s very, very good, but when she chooses to judge the situation based on her own values, morals, beliefs and intelligence and comes up with a different answer, she’s horrid. And she doesn’t deserve any dessert – or re-building contracts – either.)
And that’s it; perfectly simple and really, when you think about it, three little rules aren’t so very much when you understand all you get in return:
1. You get to fight for country in wars that will save you from going to war. You get to kill people who by God, if given a chance would probably kill you first. That is, they’d probably kill you once they had scraped together something to eat for themselves and their children and fought against the elements and their own wickedly individualistic regimes to create a small safe home to raise their children and set aside some time to worship in their own – obviously wrong and wicked – way. But the minute they were able to sustain the bare necessities of life, you better believe they’d be coming after you, if you weren’t already there first bombing the crap out of them… so it’s best to just get on with it. The best defense is a good offense as everyone knows, no use arguing – get out your gun and start shooting! Check out the constitution – it isn’t just a delightful privilege, it’s your right!
2. You get to be identified as an American.
No matter what people are saying in the communist rags
passing as newspapers these days, everyone knows that America is the greatest nation on earth, peopled by the greatest people, and led by the greatest leader... that is to say, President, the free world (really just America now) has ever known. It doesn’t matter than you can’t really go to Europe without angering the denizens by your arrogant, know-it-all presence and your habit of sneering at everything that isn’t American, or at the very least pronouncing it cute; everyone knows that without our permission, Europe wouldn’t even be Europe – it’d be a nasty foreign place with strange tasting food and people speaking foreign languages and wearing different types of clothes and thinking different kinds of thoughts and even questioning the moral superiority of America. There are dark corners of the place where that’s happening even now. But we’re keeping an eye on them – don’t you worry! How else do you think you can get a decent hamburger in almost any city in the world? If not for America and Macdonald’s…
3. Finally, being a Rugged Individualistic American means you’ll get what you deserve.
And like it or not, everyone else will get what you deserve too.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Battle of the Bulge

The fascination with Private First Class Lynndie England and the much-photographed part she played in the alleged torture and abuses at Abu Ghraib prison continues unabated. Her cheerful enthusiasm, her cocky attitude, her obvious swaggering pleasure in taking total humiliating control of Iraqi prisoners, is the subject of much unabashed public interest beyond the issue of the torture itself. And central to that enthrallment is her sex; what was a woman doing there?
As much of a feminist as I am, I can't argue with this particular gender bias: war and torture are historically man’s business. And there’s something decidedly unwholesome about this strange little person pointing with such girlish glee at the exposed genitals of the naked, hooded, hamstrung prisoners in her care.
My girlfriends and I are surprised to express rare agreement; much as we might argue sexist, genderist, stereotypes - a whole battlefield of issues created by the recently co-ed battlefield itself - it's still virtually unthinkable for a woman to be so involved... and to participate so wholeheartedly to boot. Women are just as horribly fascinated as men at this vision of a sister doing it for herself.
She’s a real barrier breaker alright… a one-woman movement, engaged in changing the traditional, accepted role of women in war.
But besides Lynddie, how much really has changed?
According to experts, the equation goes something like this: men = testosterone; too much testosterone = violence; too much violence = war; therefore (ergo, Q.E.D.,) men = war. It's science is all it is - pure chemistry; and it appears there isn't nearly enough estrogen floating around in Iraq (save Lynddie) or Washington (save Condoleeza) to make a damn bit of difference.
There was an argument put forth a few years back (by a pair of Canadian psychologists Neil I. Wiener and Christian G. Mesquida) that argued that violence and conflict are closely connected to a given society's ‘male age ratio’ - the ratio of men aged 15 to 29 to men aged 30 and older. If there’s a relatively high proportion of young men, the theory goes, a society is much more prone to violence. They pointed to particular periods in history when for a variety of reasons a demographic shift resulted in higher than normal demographic 'bulges' of young males, and the corresponding incidence of war.
(A new grouping! Parliament of owls - murder of crows - pack of hyenas - bulge of men!)
It seems a pretty straight cause and effect line could be drawn between the two - the theory being that nature abhors a significant change in male/female ratios and does whatever she can to address the discrepancy.
Now a new book takes up the argument – this time focusing on the prevalence of sex selection in certain societies, and opines on the potential problems the imbalance could create.
In Bare Branches: Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population (MIT Press) Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea M. den Boer have done the demographic math and come up with the disturbing possibility of a whole generation of angry young Asian men who won’t be able to find wives. They contend that history, biology, and sociology all suggest that these "surplus males" will generate high levels of crime and social disorder. Even worse, they allow that if such circumstances continue, the possibility exists that “… the governments of India and China will build up huge armies in order to provide a safety valve for the young men's aggressive energies.”
Even to a layperson the numbers are frightening; some social scientists suggest that through sex selected abortion, infanticide, or the adopting out of female babies, in China and Asia some 100,000,000 females are ‘missing’. The preference for male offspring for a variety of cultural and economic reasons is nothing new in certain parts of the world, but affordable, available technology has created a situation where such choices are now much more simply, cheaply and easily dealt with.
In figures I've lifted completely from the Branches study, the authors note that in 1993 and 1994, more than 121 boys were born in China for every 100 baby girls. In India during the period 1996 to 1998, the birth ratio was 111 to 100; in Taiwan in 2000, it was 109.5. In 1990 a town near New Delhi reported a sex ratio at birth of 156.
Astounding as those numbers are, there are scientists who consider the examples the authors use much too subjectively selective to establish an absolute correlation; others however, regard such studies as further proof that demographics are fundamental to human behaviour.
In 1996, David Courtwright, a professor of history at the University of North Florida authored a report that studied sex ratios and murder rates in North America. He concluded that demography is ‘social destiny’.
But what about the Middle East? I haven’t seen or read anything that suggests that such male preferenced selection is taking place – I would be surprised if it were; the technology is beyond the economic reach of the inhabitants of many of the regions, and the freedom by those most particularly affected to make use of it is virtually nonexistent. So how could demographics have had any effect on the increased amount of rage and violence spewing out of the region? Could it account for any part of the terrorist acts, and the resulting war in Iraq?
Is it possible that the female/male ratios haven’t had to physically change for a dangerous imbalance to emerge? Could making women virtual non-entities achieve much the same results as making them literally non-existent too?
And what’s going on here in North America? If our male/female statistics have remained essentially static, what does that say about the female effect on decisions surrounding the war in Iraq? Might we as well be Burqua-ed for all the difference we’ve made as a gender in addressing the crisis?
It’s hard to say – but this morning on one of the Sunday political talk shows in between commentary on Lynddie et al, on The Chris Matthews Show, host Matthews suggested that Americans admire the President of the United States because he’s such an Alpha Male – so unquestioningly sure of his decisions. There’s no self-doubt, no second guessing, virtually no apologizing; just a complete and utter sense of being right. The kind of guy people admire, he said, because unlike a woman, if driving around lost, he’d never stop to ask directions.
Perhaps it’s a similarly male trait to the one currently displayed by Pfc England; her explanation for her part in the now infamous snapshots of abuse is that she was ‘just following orders’.
Now more than ever we need the balancing influence of women – if not in numbers, than in attitude; perhaps if we all stopped now and then to ask directions instead of just following orders, we’d all have a better idea just where the hell we’re going.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Biting Commentary

Teeth are the new boobs.
For a while there, it looked like hair might be the new boobs, but teeth have come up from behind, passing hair by a nose and settling comfortably into first place, like a set of choppers sinking luxuriously into a slice of coconut cream pie.
Teeth – the new ‘it’ accessory.
It’s just a pity the new ‘it’ accessory often bears as close a resemblance to reality as a Chinatown knock-off purse does to an Hermes original.
You cannot (simply can not) switch on the television without being battered nearly insensible with the gruesome images generated by the seemingly endless stream of reality-based plastic surgery makeover shows.
Now every one-horse town (equipped with at least one hitching post and a plastic surgery saw-bones) is getting in on the trend with their own localized versions of the popular programming; but local or national – analog or digital – the made-over appear to be morphing collectively into a singular vision of beauty.
Times have most definitely changed; it wasn’t all that long ago that a makeover meant a new hairdo, brighter lipstick and a swishy dress. (And by the amazed and delighted looks on the faces of the makeover models, absolute and total thrilled disbelief when told: “And as a special surprise you can keep the clothes!” As if J. C. Penney himself were standing backstage, watching the plump lady in the St John’s twinset, ready to snatch the sweaty, makeup-stained garments off her back like a set of borrowed diamonds after the Oscars…)
Today’s makeovers include the insertion and removal of so much material, there should be genuine concern that not only do people no longer resemble their passport photos, but no longer resemble actual people.
Slenderized clone-like pod-folk are emerging after the requisite three months of surgical, dermatological, dental, cosmetic and tonsorial changes, backed up by enforced diets and marine boot camp skinny drills, but all with the same noses, lips, boobs, waistlines and teeth. No wonder little kiddies cry when confronted with their new mommies. Tall or short, blonde or brunette is about all they have to go on to tell them apart. Is it Betty mom or Veronica mom?
Cartoon people are taking over the world!
And it would be comic if it weren’t so creepy.
In years to come, people will be able to identify the TV show make-over victims by the shape of their teeth (everything else having sagged, expanded or popped since the show)– crowns and veneers so long and white, you half expect their owners to buck and whinny as they appear for their reveal. In their desire to render ‘TA-DA!’ type teeth, the cosmetic dentists have gone overboard, creating a universally copied perfect smile that in appearance is far more reminiscent of novelty wind-up clacking dentures than anything nature might invent.
Don’t get me wrong – I think plastic/cosmetic surgery can be great. And why not haul it up, plump it full or suck it out if the reality really is so gruesome? Brighten it, ‘Zoom’ whiten it, sand it smooth, or whittle it down – but why, oh why would you want to set it off with a set of laughing tackle that wouldn’t look out of place in the Winners Circle (sported by the winner) at the Kentucky Derby?
If teeth are going to be the new fashion must-have, why can’t the dentists follow fashion and slip a little originality into their designer smiles? Make some of them a little smaller, or a little irregular, or perhaps dial back the colour just a tad; no one should have to wear sunglasses just to be in the same room as the dentally enhanced.
Teeth really are in danger of becoming the new new boobs – looking as natural as a pair of gigantic mammaries - perfect, round and pointed permanently and optimistically upward - tucked under the sagging neck of an eighty year old babe in navel-grazing Versace designer d├ęcolletage.
When Smarty Jones becomes the epitome of dental perfection, the only reality about these makeover shows is in the title.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Hey now...

I've been busy the past few days (though it's probably more accurate to say that while I may not have been present here, I've been trying to be constantly present, so 'the past few days' may be irrelevant in the vast space/time continuum-thingy) reading 'The Power of Now' by Eckhart Tolle, a current bestseller that advocates spiritual enlightenment through the act of living permanently and precisely in the moment. This one. And this one. And so on. And on. And on.
Tolle’s bestselling self-helper has set the enlightenment biz abuzz with its powerful message of moving out of the traditional mindset that keeps us trapped living either in comparison of the past, or in anticipation of the future; he reminds us that ‘now’ is all we really have, and promises that once we can master the concept, we will be set free… of something or other…I haven’t actually got to that bit quite yet.
(Personally, I always preferred the past – rendered twinklingly aglow with rose-tinted memories – though to be perfectly honest, I have to admit I also spend a part of each day leap-frogging into expectations of what tomorrow will bring; clearly I’m the perfect subject for this lesson – a hummingbird-brained past and future thinker, unable to spend more than a moment or two in contemplation of ‘the moment’ itself.)
Later: exhaustion from trying to wrap my mind around the notion of my brain bouncing from past to future and back again, like a mental version of Pong set at high speed, necessitated a quick nap to snap back into the now. Or wherever (or whenever) the heck it is I am now.
That’s the problem with the notion of ‘now’ – trying to live in it feels more like patting my head and rubbing my tummy (while standing on one leg and singing ‘The Maple Leaf Forever’ in pig-latin) than an actual, real-live possibility. Far from being happy that the library finally called to let me know the book was in – and waiting more than three months to move up on the list didn’t exactly catapult ‘now’ into my life with lightning speed – I’m feeling distinctly cranky, wondering how many impossible-to-replicate ‘now’ moments I’ve wasted trying to get there (here?) in the first place.
It’s beginning to sink in - it’s just not me.
Me, the person who can take up to a month to assemble a stamp, an envelope and the necessary five minutes it takes to transfer the combination safely into a mailbox.
Me, the dishwasher half-full sort of girl – which is to say that I see life as not filled up enough yet to add detergent and switch on.
Me – who will doggedly go through every last pair of panties (including the waist-high 100% cotton ones with the snapped and snarled elastic, famed for their ability to conjure up blood-curdling visions of half-naked grannies) before even considering conjuring up the Cheer, (not to mention the ‘cheer’) the loonies, and the energy required to begin the laundry cycle once more.
Honestly? I have this recurring nightmare where I run out of everything on one hellacious day and explode in a burst of flaming coincidence. It’s just like those last few scenes in the movie Wargames, as the computer figures out the millions of possible permutations of the secret code and comes within seconds of destroying the world. My countdown would go something like: … soap… stamps… mayonnaise… shampoo… dog biscuits… bacon… underpants – KABOOM!
I’m beginning to hate Eckhart Tolle. I look at his simpering little author photograph and remember how much I distrust men who sport beards without moustaches. (It’s just plain WRONG!) I think about what I would call him if I got to know him better, and every variation of his name sounds like a cat hacking up a hairball. I read his autobiographical sketch and realize I am contemplating following the advice of a man who reports that when he achieved spiritual enlightenment, he: “…dwelt in states of such indescribable bliss and sacredness that even the original experience [of achieving enlightenment] pales in comparison… for a while I was left with nothing on the physical plane. I had no relationships, no job, no home, no socially defined identity. I spent almost two years sitting on park benches in a state of the most intense joy.”
And so, my days as student and living-in-the-now adherent screech to an abrupt halt.
There is no time in the past or in the future, when no matter the heights of blissed outed-ness, the vision of me and the dog living on a park bench sparks any interest whatsoever.
We may be timeless procrastinators - she will do anything to avoid a bath or have her toenails clipped; I will do anything to sidestep ironing – but together we represent a harmonious whole.
Who cares if our underwear elastic has lost its snap? Our fridge is empty of lowfat mayonnaise? Our cupboards are barren of dog biscuits?
It seems there are still some emergencies that require 'in the moment' action...
I’m presently going to the pet store NOW.

Friday, May 07, 2004

President Shoe

Does the world seem a little crazier today than yesterday? A little stupider? Not that it hasn't been appalling enough over the past year (and last night's crappy Friends finale didn't raise the intellectual or artistic stakes any - talk about torture!) but just leafing through today's paper was like a whole unswept minefield of incendiary stories as bomb-worthy as the thought of next season's promised Matt LeBlanc Friends spinoff Joey.
BOOM! Bush says sorry. Gee – was it something we said? The Presidential apologist made yesterday's blog redundant by finally feeling officially awful about the shocking photographs depicting American abuse of Iraqi prisoners. Of course he made the apology to the King of Jordan – which is sort of like beating me up, piling me naked onto a human pyramid, then apologizing to my neighbours in Suite 426, but failing to alert my family or friends…
BOOM! Photograph of Lynddie England – the funky little female soldier featured so pertly and prominently in so many of the Abu Grhaib prison pictures; though sporting the same tired army fatigues, Lynddie accessorizes with this season’s military ‘must have’: a naked Iraqi on the end of a leash. (Friends and family of the West Virginia native express the traditional disbelief and surprise that little Lynn would have anything to do with such nefarious goings-on… they probably add - though it’s not mentioned in the article - how surprised they all were to discover the quiet guy living in the Boo Radley-type house down the street was slaughtering teenagers in his basement. He seemed like such a shy man - but he always generously supplied plenty of barbecue for the neighbourhood’s 4th of July block party…)
BOOM BOOM! President Bush makes clear his support of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld – despite the fact that Rumsfeld failed to alert him to the situation in Abu Grhaib. (Or any of the other detention facilities/photography studios where abuses were apparently recorded and documented with a zeal unmatched since Nazi Germany.) He shoulda known better - Rumsfeld has made no secret of the fact that he considers the Geneva convention as nothing more than the loosest and most easily ignored of 'whateverish’ guidelines. The protection of statutory rights are presumably only extended to those Rummy considers human.
BOOM! Conservatives float the idea of Don Cherry as a candidate in the next federal election. If idea-floater Peter McKay is allowed to continue to rave in public with neither medication, nor fulltime nurse, steps really should be taken to alert mental health officials that a card-carrying nutjob is running around Ottawa unattended... though fully miked for sound bites.
And so it goes…
* A report from the Associated Press about a group of elders in a Pakistani village passing sentence on a poor local farmer who had the unmitigated criminal nerve to admire one of their daughters; the sentence allowed the father to rape the farmer’s sister and sister-in-law. With elders like that, it's just a pity the nearby Arabian Sea is too warm to sustain ice floes...
* U.N Peacekeepers sent in to protect the civilian population and put a stop to the commerce in human sex slaves are reportedly responsible for 20% of the Kosovo sex trade, hiring prostitutes as young as 11 years old.
* The United States plotting to end communist rule in Cuba by trying to sideline the next Castro in line for the job, Fidel's brother Raul Castro. The President’s fervent desire for democracy in Cuba does not include allowing Americans any freedom in Cuba or Cubans' freedom in America. Unpleasant, mistrustful snippiness continues as the strategy of choice.
* Adidas has just come out with a $250 athletic shoe equipped with a microchip that adapts the sneaker to the wearer’s size and stride. The ‘smart shoe’ – secretly developed over the past 3 years at a classified location in Oregon– is expected to revolutionize the running industry. According to Adidas Global Marketing Director Erich Stamminger, the runner ‘…senses, understands and adapts.’
Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Two Little Words

How do you know when the situation in the Middle East has spiraled all the way to hell and back out of control? What are the clues you need to keep your eagle eyes wide open to observe? What are the possible elements of a situation that would indicate that unless steps are taken, Kryptonite is about to turn blue, Superman will turn to a life of crime, and America as we know it is going to have to advise the post office of their change of address to ‘Bizzarro USA’?
I’m pretty sure it has something to do with an elderly Iraqi woman, held some six weeks without charge in Abu Grhaib prison, during which time she was harnessed and forced to crawl on all fours so she could be ridden like a donkey by occupying American forces. But then I’m a stickler for olde worlde behaviour – like not saddling up old folks for a trot ‘round the compound of the notorious Baghdad prison as punishment for the possible crime of possibly knowing a possible former member of Saddam Hussein’s inner circle. (A possibility the seventy year old woman, physically recovered though still emotionally traumatized, denies.)
And this report of torture and/or humiliation of Iraqis by US soldiers is just the latest example of certain US military elements, running wildly out of control.
The current White House line, that this regrettable behaviour is just another isolated incident performed by an isolated few, loses some of it’s oomph as an argument as stories of abuses beyond Abu Grhaib - against prisoners held in Afghani and Guantanamo Bay detention centres – and charges of actual murder by American soldiers gain momentum.
The Sixty Minutes II expose last week, leant authenticity by the accompanying horrific photographs of tortured and abused prisoners surrounded by the gleeful thumbs-upping of American soldiers, didn’t really put faces on the victims of abuse, as for the most part their faces were covered with black bags. Their naked bodies – piled up in grotesque heaps of human humiliation – that’s another story. Tales of prisoners forced to masturbate in front of female soldiers, being forced to simulate – or even actually perform - sexual acts on each other, and in one case of a juvenile prisoner, forced to submit to rape by his captor, tell a story of sadists allowed free reign to contrive the most soul destroying of tortures.

So many questions arise. Why were such (presumably) low-ranking soldiers permitted to interrogate prisoners? What particular skills or training are required in the army handbook to achieve the position of inquisitor? How could senior officers not be aware that something (anything) was amiss? What would be the reaction of Americans to news that Iraqi insurgents were raping and killing US soldiers and civilians with not just complete and utter freedom, but with clearly a deep and satisfying pleasure?
President Bush moved swiftly - through interviews presented on a couple of Arab networks - to assure Iraqi citizens that the behaviour of these foul few was neither countenanced nor approved of by either him, or indeed the American people. But apparently the President’s words were a little too little, a little too late. Reports out of the Middle East suggest a people unconvinced by his protestations of shock and horror; a people unmoved by his explanation that that’s ‘not the way we do things in America’.
Because even now, when the chips aren’t just down, but cascading over the side of the table; even as the anger and hate for America and all thing American is reaching dangerous proportions, the real truth about the way they don’t do things in America is emerging. And it’s a truth is as ugly as the ugliest American who ever put a bit between the teeth of a senior citizen, and rode her hard with a ‘hi-yi-yippee–yippee-yo!’ across the minds and imaginations of the world.
Being the American President means never saying ‘I’m sorry’.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

I Worry...

And speaking of an afterlife, if you find yourself worrying that you’ll end up experiencing it just a smidge too far on this side of the great divide, you’ll pleased to know that a leading edge cemetery in Santiago Chile has solved the problem… at least for those with a little extra money tucked inside their shroud.
According to a spokesperson from the Camino a Canaan cemetery, for just a few pesos more, you can purchase a casket-mounted sensor designed to detect motion after the loved one has been buried. No more ‘accidentally-pronounced-dead-when-in-fact-was-only-suffering-from-a-touch-of-catalepsy’ concerns for you!
I worry about these things – I really do. I visualize my coffin excavated one day, and anthropologists tut-tutting as they make note of the hideous scratch marks gouged in the underside of my lid. So besides the repulsive idea of worms playing pinochle in my mouth, I'm opting for cremation - though I’m seriously thinking of installing one of those motion detectors in my urn. You can never be too careful…
These are the thoughts that torture me in between worries about my bank manager’s dim view of my account balance and the fear that I may be suffering from hair or fingernail tumors. Oh – and my conviction every time I leave the safety of downtown Toronto that my car's engine will explode and the only person who will stop to help is a recently escaped maniac, or someone boring. I’m always sure my credit cards will be refused, my eyelashes will fall out, and that I really look like the image that stares back at me in department store dressing rooms. Is it surprising I’m beginning to look old before my time (or is that just those blasted department store mirrors again?!)
My overweening worries are probably the reason I’m so anxious to avoid certain reality based television programs: seeing some of my most exotic fears made real. Who wants to watch competitions involving a contestant buried up to the eyeballs in snakes or scorpions or tarantulas? The live maggot or giant grub speed-eating contests? The dangling from a string over a chasm endurance tests? I’m continually amazed that such stuff gets ratings; I’ve woken screaming from nightmares that are played out regularly in prime time for cash prizes.
And I’ve often wondered, (but never really wanted to know) how I’d fare on a desert island. (Or is it deserted island? Or both? Hot and lonely. Typical.) I was so pleased when ‘Castaway’ was released a couple of years ago;I felt Tom Hanks gave a superb performance, the film going some way to answer those oft unanswered questions about building fires and sheltering and what’s safe to eat and how to befriend a basketball and whatnot. It may be a nightmare, but at least it’s useful information – which is why I’m surprised so many ‘Survivor’ contestants clearly never bother to learn these basics in the safety of their own backyard before sailing off down the Amazon or being dropped off in the middle of an African Veldt. Off they trot, equipped with little more than a do-rag and a confidence way out of proportion to their middle-of-nowhere survival skills.
But while I never plan to apply to appear on the show, I’m preparing myself on the off-chance I should be so lucky as to go on a luxury cruise, or be flying in or around the Caribbean or Mediterranean and something (as usual) goes awry. And I worry I won’t imagine and prepare for every eventuality, so here are a few random worries I’m still trying to sort out:
- What would happen if I got a toothache and didn’t have an ice skate with which to whack the tooth out of my head?
- What happens when my contact lenses dry up or my glasses break? Rescue could be yards away and I’d miss it altogether
- Will it be possible to create cosmetics out of charcoal, pomegranate seeds and squid ink, or moisturizer out of masticated coconut? And what about highlights for hair? Will I have to discover if a medieval way with urine is the answer to my heretofore completely unnatural sun-kissed style?
- What’ll I do when I run out of toothpaste tubes to read? (You know the Encyclopedia Britannica (or even a crappy water-logged Jackie Collins bustier-ripper) is unlikely to wash up on the beach with you, and anything that does arrive to break the boredom will likely only have instructions or ingredients printed on it for your literature-starved reading pleasure.
- Can I use a razor fish to shave my legs?

I worry about these things - really, I do.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Afterlife, shmafterlife...

Hold-ups, delays, setbacks, postponements - sometimes day to day existence is so uncertain that the possibility of an afterlife seems like the last straw.
What – you mean there’s more?
Hard to say… but the good news is that life in this space/time continuum is supposed to improve rapidly any minute now. That’s right – after weeks of decisions that moved at the approximate speed of a sloth on downers, the planet Mercury (it is reported) is abandoning its retrograde activities and moving in the right direction once again.
Why this news has not appeared on the front page of every newspaper (both local and international) is a mystery not revealed in the stars. But you can bet your boots that the White House knows about it, and may even now trying to manipulate this latest of planetary movements into their game plan.
After all, it wouldn’t be the first time.
It’s the strangest of strange phenomenon – the predilection the highest echelons have of placing their eggs in some pretty questionable baskets. This particular administration seems to rely on ‘The Almighty’ for snappy answers to harrowing questions, whilst White Houses of the past have gone straight for the horoscope page in their daily paper – the Reagans being the most famous of star struck first families.
The Reagans and their attachment to San Francisco sibyl Joan Quigley surfaced when Donald Regan’s bitter tell-all book hit the street, and then the news, in 1988, alerting the world to the creepy relationship twixt Oval Office and astrologer, a co-mingling that began when Nancy Reagan met Quigley through TV talk show host Merv Griffin sometime in the 70’s. (Wasn’t I just talking about Merv yesterday? Coincidence… or woo-woo?)
After offering astrological advice during Reagan’s campaign in 1980, the seer was put on a $3000 monthly retainer and given control (though she maintained it was the cosmos that ruled the agenda) of the President’s appointment book for the next several years. According to Regan, the First Lady shared the schedule for the leader of the free world with Quigley, who subsequently went over it with the aid of complicated zodiac charts to decide which days were auspicious for which activities (marked green), which were dangerous (red, notch), and which were somewhat questionable. (Cautionary yellow the shade of choice.)
But if one holds a jaundiced view of iffy situations, could there be anything more worrying that the current President’s messianic ‘tude about not just the war in Iraq, but the total moral supremacy of the United States?
Hey – it’s not just me; the subject of Bush’s God-complex has been raising eyebrows since he was Born Again (once was not enough?) around the time of his fortieth birthday – the point at which he presumably gained through the Lord the strength to give up booze and drugs - and continues to this day, as he’s recently been accorded the dubious title (and in only his first term in office) as the President most given to religious language. And them’s fighting’ words.
Back in the fall of 2003, Sojourner’s magazine (a faith based journal linking Christianity and social justice) ran an article titled ‘Dangerous Religion – George W. Bush’s Theology of Empire’ detailing the 43rd President’s unholy aligning of church and state. (When a Christian organization considers Bush’s policy-making cause for concern, you gotta start praying.) Jim Wallis, the author of the piece writes:
“To this aggressive extension of American power in the world, President George W. Bush adds God—and that changes the picture dramatically. It's one thing for a nation to assert its raw dominance in the world; it's quite another to suggest, as this president does, that the success of American military and foreign policy is connected to a religiously inspired "mission," and even that his presidency may be a divine appointment for a time such as this.”
Are you scared yet?
Perhaps like me, you've made mental note of Bush’s discomfiting tendency to ascribe God’s support of the U.S. position on war in Iraq, and have chosen to see it as a personal quirk – a figurative way of speaking - rather than a claim of insider information.
Perhaps we were wrong.
But perhaps even the President will not remain unmoved by the deeply disturbing news concerning American and allied troop’s treatment of Iraqi prisoners; that the claims of threats, torture, and humiliation (claims, it is important to note, that are backed up by photographic evidence) are not just isolated incidents, but proof that evil at least is no xenophobe. That the United States cannot claim moral superiority by divine right – that it is men who are evil, and not other men’s Gods. And further that to suggest one knows the mind of God (let alone calling dibs on his sponsorship) is if not evil, at the very least misguided.
(Not that I claim any heavenly insight, but I imagine God must be pretty sick of having so much pain, agony and death caused in His name. That, and being held responsible for so many undeserved Grammies, Oscars, Super Bowls…and possibly, Stanley Cups…)
But if there were those of you hoping the American president was going to abandon The Almighty in exchange for Astrological guidance, you might want to think again: Bush is a Cancer – and the planet of war (Mars) is swiftly moving direct in his sign.
For God’s sake – isn’t it enough already?

Sunday, May 02, 2004

No autographs please

I take back four fifths of everything I said; the party last night for the 24th Annual Genies was all in all, more or less, not completely, totally train-wreck-torture awful. And to be perfectly honest, what more could you possibly hope for from a Canadian movie awards show?
It’s a classic jolly happy ending-type story: rock bottom expectations transformed into a genuinely bearable outcome. Everybody gets a free meal and tons of drinks, as well as an enormous coffee table top-sized souvenir program and toddles off home relieved that they didn’t embarrass themselves, though somewhat saddened that no one else did either.
My friend and I decided to arrive halfway through the opening cocktailer, espying Mayor David Miller cruising around in a decidedly spectacular tuxedo (like the Genies - and particularly after following Mel Lastman – expectations for city leadership were snake’s-belly-in-a-wagon-rut low, low, low… so we’re all terribly pleased and surprised that Hizzoner has turned out to be not just a thoughtful, able man, but a bit of a dish to boot) as well as Denys Arcand and his pretty producer/wife, schmoozing and smiling, gliding through the lobby party as if they had already won the awards they eventually received. Confident – Canadian…perhaps those two words are about to loose their mutual exclusivity!
So there we were, she in the navy Armani and orange stilettos (abandoning the kitten fur-wedding cake rosette-trimmed sandals we had so exhaustingly – and expensively - dug up days before) tall and imperious on the outside, silly and ready for a giggle on the inside, and me in my fifteen year old velvet skirt, ten year old Marks and Sparks jersey halter, and Winner’s on sale sleeveless black ruffled tuxedo blouse tied jauntily at the waist. (I was going for the Sharon-Stone-wearing-her-husband’s-dress-shirt-knotted-over-Chanel-floor-length-silver-skirt-to-the-Oscars look. I may not have succeeded, but neither did anyone point and laugh. Certainly no one I saw.)
We made the rounds – she knows everybody but has no actual, measurable memory skills whatsoever, so all I can tell you is we did meet some awfully nice people who may or may not have been famous. I did recognize one intense looking young man as the star of CTV’s Eleventh Hour (I never watch, but then, they never stop running promos) who personified the Merv Griffen measure of potential fame by having a giant head. (There were a lot of giant heads at the sparkling do, not the least – or smallest of which – was mine, so the theory isn’t absolute per se…)
By the time people were starting to drift into the gigantic Metro Convention Centre ballroom wherein the eating and awards giving and taking was to be held, the g.f.’s hem, caught in the ankle strap buckles of the tangerine dream shoes, was going south at an alarming rate, so we made a quick detour to the makeup-cum-greenroom for some fast and furious double sided taping, as well as a quick swipe at our under eye circles with a miraculous concealing cream the make-up ladies were happy to dispense. Since I technically (!) was not going to appear on the show, it was a bit of cheek to demand equal concealing time with my Documentary Award presenting friend, but as it turned out, I must have been prescient; according to a friendly viewer (my accountant) I was the opening audience shot alongside Sarah Polley, and figured prominently in audience captures throughout the evening!
After my star turn, the show was understandably a bit of an anticlimax – though I’ll mention Scott Thompson was an absolutely first rate host (a nice guy too – I met him in the greenroom and was surprised to find him genuinely interested in meeting me and talking to the g.f., and not obsessing about his hair or his lipstick and looking for someone to blame should it all go up in flames as I certainly would mere moments before the show), the dais itself was the absolute acme of sophistication and grown-up awards show staging, and the promos setting up each award category and acted by some seriously talented young unknowns, were both wry and dry – the perfect Canadian humour combo.
The content I can skip over quickly – French, French and French – The Barbarian Invasions taking the vast majority of the prizes and other worthy French Canadian films picking up most of the rest. The g.f. with onstage partner LeVar Burton (whom I’m absolutely sure winked at me when we met… perhaps my cobbled together old clobber was more alluring than I originally thought!) did a splendid job of pronouncing awkward names before handing over the hardware for best doc.
My seatmate and co-star in the opening show shot, Sarah Polley picked up the best actress award and gave a charming speech that combined humble gratitude with an eloquent plea for deserving Canadian films to receive more support. I’d tell you more, but I was sweetly distracted; caught up in watching Polley’s husband – smallish and fair and quite shy… the male Sarah essentially – gaze at his wife in slack-jawed, gob-smacked admiration and delight. (He himself had won a craft award Genie for editing earlier in the evening, so I imagine the two winning young lovers were destined for a little mutual figure polishing later that night…)
So there you have it – all you need to know now is that as our two heroines drifted off contentedly into the dark Toronto night, the skies waited until I was getting out of the taxi before pissing all over me in a drenching rain shower. But I didn’t mind – I don’t care: I was sure that was all bound to happen hours before when I first entered the convention centre.
So I’m pleased to report that Canadian movie stars and producer/director types couldn’t be nicer – especially to an unknown, non-movie biz bod like moi. Though it’s just possible they were treating me as a peer, suspecting that which I didn’t know until I got the email from my accountant this morning – that I was destined to become the star of the whole damn thing.